Nationhood relates to how we view our national identity. Australia has a unique national identity encompassing that of the Aboriginal people, the British settlers who imposed British law, the British language and British culture and the multitude of people who have migrated to this country from all over the world each bringing with them a part of their own cultural heritage which is all combined to make Australia what it is today.
Nationhood also means being a nation. The Australian nation was formed by the Australian Constitution and Crown which has underwritten our democracy and freedoms and enabled us to be a free and sovereign nation and has enabled us to benefit from being a multi-racial community.
Australian nationhood is a totally Australian entity which means that, although it is comprised of many parts, they have all come together to form our unique Australian identity.
Before 1901 the present Australian States were separate colonies within the then British Empire. Although they each had their own parliaments and managed, to a great extent, their own affairs, they were still answerable to the British government in London.
Since the 1840s London was sympathetic for the colonies to assume a greater deal of independence and from around the 1880s people within Australia were seeking some sort of joining together of the separate colonies. Initially, because each colony had separate customs and tariffs, even on each other and then later for the need to defend the continent of Australia as European powers became more aggressive. Representatives of the colonies started to meet and then decided to work at moves for all the Australian colonies to join together in one federation. The Australasian Federal Council was established in 1885 and official representatives from each colony were elected to attend meetings which were called constitutional conventions to debate and draw up a constitution for the new nation.
The Australian Constitution was drafted between 1891 and 1898 by Australian representatives led by Sir Samuel Griffiths from Queensland. The draft Constitution Bill was revised by Griffith, Kingston, Barton and Inglis Clark, afloat on the Queensland Government yacht Lucinda, during the Easter break of the 1891 Convention in Sydney. This draft was revived and debated at the 1897–98 Convention, and final changes were made at the 'Secret Premiers' Conference' early in 1899 in order to gain the agreement of all the colonies.
The draft combined elements from the constitutions of the United States of America, of Canada and of Switzerland. Of course, much of the Constitution was based on the uncodified constitution of the United Kingdom. The Australian drafters decided that the Constitution would be established under the Crown of the United Kingdom and that Australia would be a constitutional monarchy with power for change vested in the people and not in the Parliament as in the case of the United Kingdom.
The Australian Constitution was thus 10 years in the shaping, starting with the proposals presented to the 1891 Convention. It was put to the people to vote on in a series of referendums in each colony in 1898-1900 with each referendum being approved by the then electors.
Accordingly, the new Australian nation was established on the 1st of January 1901 following the passing of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act by the United Kingdom Parliament. The purpose of the Act was ‘to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia’.
Federalism is a political system which unites separate states or other polities under a united entity, but which also allows each of the components to maintain their own integrity. Some form of power-sharing is required when establishing a Federal system. This is done by way of a federal constitution.
In Australia, what is called the Commonwealth — or federal — Constitution was drafted by representatives from each of the Australian colonies and agreed-upon by the people within those colonies.
Under the Australian federal system, the Australian colonies became the Australian States with each state maintaining its own parliament, Governor, laws and police force but under the Federal Constitution it was also agreed that the Commonwealth government would be responsible for matters concerning the whole nation, particularly defence and foreign affairs. Whilst both the Commonwealth and the State governments were able to impose separate taxation levies, the States surrendered their taxing powers during the Second World War. The Commonwealth government now is the only government taxing Australians although the States impose other levies.
The Westminster System is a method of parliamentary government, also known as responsible government, which evolved in England and was adopted in its colonies (now forming most of the countries within the Commonwealth), including Australia and which then was adopted in varying formats in several non-British countries.
It is based on the principle that the executive government is responsible to the people through the parliament. The executive government including the Prime Minister, is formed by those who command the support of the lower House of Parliament. Ministers must be members of a House of Parliament and are accountable to it. The original and proper Westminster system is established under the Crown which means that the monarch is head of state but with limited powers. The (proper) system also comprises an independent public service and an independent judiciary that applies the rule of law.
The Westminster System developed over several centuries of tussle between the English parliament and its king which included a civil war in the 17th century and the establishment of a short-lived republic. In the 13th century a charter was granted to the people called Magna Carta which gave taxing powers to what was to eventually become the parliament thus giving it authority it never possessed before and leading to its supremacy.
The re-establishment of the monarchy was on agreed terms which meant a greater independence for the parliament which by the latter 19th century had evolved pretty much into the system we know today.
Australia is a constitutional monarchy which means that the Australian Constitution is based on the Crown. In this regard we are not talking about the jewelled headpiece worn by the King (crown with a lower case ‘c’) but that the Crown (upper case ‘C’) is the legal embodiment of executive, legislative, and judicial governance within the country. For further information in this regard see the article on this website.
The alternative to the Crown is ‘the state’ by itself. Whereas the Crown is answerable to the people and not to politicians, without the Crown the state will be controlled by politicians.
Sovereignty relates to the supreme legitimate authority in the country. The King is often referred to as ‘the Sovereign’ because he represents the authority of the nation although, once appointed, the Governor-General takes his place and becomes executive head of state exercising the constitutional authority of the nation subject to the legislative will of the Parliament.
Coats of Arms, Standards, Cyphers and Badges
The names above are all connected with visual recognition of either place or person. They are each subtly different from the other and each has a history of hundreds of years. Those illustrated below are obviously, recent examples of a rich tradition.
This very brief overview which pertains to Australia will give some insight into the use of design and symbolism for representation. The official name of this art is armory but is more commonly known as heraldry. Those who want to investigate the subject further can find vast amounts of material on the internet and in book form. Two ‘classic’ and very thorough texts are: Arthur Charles Fox-Davies: Complete guide to heraldry and Boutell’s Heraldry revised by C W Scott-Giles. A well-illustrated general view of the history and present situation is Stephen Slater’s Living heraldry.
Coat of Arms
Quite literally and in the early centuries of heraldic art, the design of a family’s arms was worn over armour. Almost certainly (there is some doubt) this was to aid recognition of who was inside the armour and, in summer heat, as a means of deflecting the sun’s rays from the metal of the armour and thus providing some sort of cooling. The material of the coat varied. As a monarch it was more likely to be a light silk or satin and for a knight perhaps linen or calico. The coat was worn in battle and for tournaments.
The term coat of arms now only applies to literal coats in respect to heralds who still wear their coats (correctly called ‘tabards’) on ceremonial occasions in the UK. These days the term applies to a shield, its crest and where appropriate, supporters i.e. a representation of an animal or person who ‘holds’ the shield upright.
The Coat of Arms of Australia has an emu and kangaroo as supporters and they are standing on a stylised base intertwined with flowering wattle. The kangaroo holds the Shield which has, within an ermine border, a representation of the badge of each of the six states. The state of Victoria is in the ‘second quarter’ as its badge includes a crown above the southern cross and thus acts as a central theme to the whole design. Above the shield is a crest of a 7 pointed gold star (the six states and a point for the territories) resting on its wreath. Usually the wreath sits atop a helmet but in this case not so. The symbolism is self-evident.
Each State has its own coat of arms usually related to the symbol shown in Australia’s coat of arms. For example, South Australia:
but Queensland is different:
This is another name for a flag with a rectangular shape often ending in two points. Back in the early years of heraldry standards were flown before and during battle and keeping the standard flying was de rigeur. The idea of fighting for/behind a standard goes back to ancient civilizations and it might be argued that it is one of many basic ‘western’ practices the origins of which are lost in time.The convention continued for hundreds of years and is still maintained today in armed forces units (‘colours’) where flags take on hugely significant meaning. The annual Trooping of the Colour ceremony in London is an example.
In respect to the Sovereign (or the Governor-General or Governor) the standard is flown wherever that person is at the time. When the King is in Australia (or a member of the immediate royal family) a standard will be flown - on an aeroplane upon arrival/departure, on a car, a building ... It is part of the system of government which we enjoy that the presence of the Sovereign or Representative of the Sovereign is publicly known.
Each Governor has his standard, the Governor-General has one and the King himself.
Queen Elizabeth II's Standard
Queen Elizabeth II's standard was flown whenever she was in Australia or when she was abroad and acting as Queen of Australia. It was basically the shield from Australia’s Coat of Arms onto which was added the crest (7 pointed gold star) but with a blue disc within the star which has the letter E surmounted by a crown and surrounded by a gold garland of roses. The Royal Standard has precedence over all other flags.
The Governor-General’s Standard
This has a royal blue background and a direct copy of the crest of the King's United Kingdom arms above a scroll with the words Commonwealth of Australia. The crest is of a lion statant guardant (this heraldic description means: standing sideways on four paws and looking directly at the viewer) surmounted by a crown and standing on St Edward’s Crown. (St Edward’s Crown is the crown with which monarchs are ‘crowned’.)
Each State Governor has a standard which generally incorporates the badge of the State. For example, New South Wales:
A cypher is used only by the Sovereign and is akin to a monogram. The King uses his cypher throughout his Realms.
This is an abbreviated quasi-heraldic device which can be used instead of or additional to a coat of arms. Many badges become symbols of what they represent as effectively (some might say more effectively) as a coat of arms. Each State of Australia has a badge related to the symbols associated with the state. Badges are useful in that they can be used by household members or people/institutions generally associated with the person whose badge it is whereas a coat of arms or a standard is correctly useable only by the person whose coat it is.
The Sovereign does not have any particular badge associated with the office as there are so many symbolic images from hundreds of years of history which have and still do, in some cases, symbolise the individual that to use one would be to exclude the others. These days the King uses a monogram or cypher. See above.
The badge of the Governor-General
The badge takes its floral inspiration from the Australian coat of arms.
Each State Governor has a badge of office. The device(s) used on the badge usually relate to the devices used on the State’s Coat of Arms.
New South Wales
Although the Australian Constitution was drafted by Australians for Australia, it had to be presented to the British Parliament for approval because, even though each State colony have a measure of independence, control was still exercised from London. Furthermore, the draft constitution was the first of its kind in Australia as its intent was to create a new country.
The draft constitution was therefore incorporated as a schedule of an act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom called the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900. This act was given royal assent on 9 July 1900 and was proclaimed on 17 September 1900. It entered into force on 1 January 1901.
When the Australian drafters of the Australian Constitution were deliberating on the form it was to take, they studied the constitutions of a number of countries both republics and monarchies, including Canada, Switzerland and the United States. They were obviously interested in the federal systems established in the United States and Canada and drew ideas from that and also from the US Senate. They were also impressed by the mandatory referendum stipulation for constitutional changes in Switzerland and virtually copied that word by word including the requirement for a double majority (see the question on referendums).
Whilst Australia and its sister nations under the Crown and the United States of America are all functioning democracies, there are radical differences. The US Constitution, which was written in 1787, was based on the system then existing in Britain with the King replaced by a president. Of course, there were other differences, but the basic structure was essentially the same.
The British system evolved over the next hundred years into a constitutional monarchy with responsible government whilst America remained fundamentally tied to its 1787 Constitution. The US does not have responsible government.
Responsible government refers to a government that is responsible to the people. Members of the cabinet (government) must be taken from the parliament and it, the government, can only operate with the confidence of the lower house of the parliament.
In the United States, the president selects his cabinet from outside the Parliament (the Congress and the Senate) and it is answerable only to him. In Australia the Prime Minister is head of the government and the Governor-General, as representative of the King, is the executive head of state whilst in the United States the president is head of state, both ceremonial and executive, as well as being head of the government.
Australia has a King, which, under the Australian Constitution is always the monarch of the United Kingdom, because Australia is a constitutional monarchy. We should not forget that the Australian Constitution was drafted by Australians and, furthermore, in the referendums prior to Federation in 1901, the Australian electorate voted to be a monarchy and this was confirmed by the Australian electorate in the referendum of 1999.
The King is always represented in Australia by an Australian as Governor-General.
The Australian Constitution is established under the Crown which means that whoever is monarch in Great Britain is the monarch of Australia. However, the monarch is always represented in Australia by an Australian as Governor-General and, once appointed, the Governor-General assumes the role of executive head of state and oversees the Australian Constitution. The King plays no further constitutional role in the country other than retaining the residual power of dismissing the Governor-General.
That power is always exercised on the advice of the Prime Minister and the benefit in this indirect approach is that because the Prime Minister cannot by himself appoint or sack the Governor-General, the process becomes transparent and open to question by the public and the media and is therefore a safety valve and an important part of the checks and balances which pervade our entire constitutional system of governance.
Whilst the Governor-General may prepare a report for the King on what is happening in Australia, that is only for information purposes. The King never interferes in the governance of the nation.
People may ask “why doesn’t the parliament and not the King appoint the Governor-General?” If the parliament were to do this, then we would no longer be a constitutional monarchy under the Crown but would become a republic with the politician — controlled state becoming the legal embodiment of executive, legislative, and judicial governance within the country.
As a functioning democracy, it is, or course, the right of any individual to speak on and promote a republic just as they may promote a change in government. This is something that many people cannot do elsewhere such as the situation that exists in the former British Crown Colony of Hong Kong but which is now under China’s control.
Ever since the British settled in Australia, groups of people have talked about setting up a republic in this country but nothing seriously was done until towards the end of the last century when a referendum was held and which was decisively rejected by the people. However, whilst talk still continues, particularly in the media, there is no intention on the part of the Australian parliament to consider such a move.
The argument "we want an Australian head of State" sounds trendy but is actually meaningless. The term ‘Head of State’ came into being long after our Australian Constitution was drafted and was used mainly by presidents of republics to describe themselves. However, in Australia, we have a different system from a republic as we are a Constitutional Monarchy, the main benefit of which is that the Monarch, through the Governor-General acts as a guardian of our Constitution keeping absolute power from the hands of politicians.
Section 128 of the Australian Constitution requires that for any change to the Australian Constitution a referendum of the people is required. This referendum is based on obtaining a nationwide majority of 50% +1 together with a majority vote in a majority of the States which means that a referendum must also obtain a majority in four of the six states.
This ensures that politicians cannot, by themselves, amend the Constitution but that this can only be done by a vote of the people.
As Sovereign, the King is the font of Australian citizenship. Our passports are issued in the name of the Governor-General as the King's representative. As Sovereign he cannot be a citizen of any of his Realms including the UK. As such, His Majesty does not have a passport.
The simple answer is No. Australia does not pay a cent for the maintenance or security of the Sovereign. The exception is only when he visits Australia which can only be at the request of the government at which time expenses incurred from the planned itinerary are paid for by the Australian government This applies equally to any visiting dignitary invited to Australia by the government.
As far as the upkeep of the monarchy in the United Kingdom is concerned, in addition to the monarch’s private income which is in part used for ‘official’ expenditure there are two revenue-producing Royal Duchy Estates and the Crown Estate which between them provide the major funds for the maintenance of the monarchy and the immediate Royal Family.
The one overall exception to the self-funding nature of the monarchy is the cost of security. This, as one might expect, is a government/local responsibility within the UK and the responsibility of each country where the monarch might visit. When the King visits Australia, federal and state governments will take up the costs. At all times, abroad and in the UK, the monarch is accompanied by personal bodyguards who are paid for by the British government, but these are supplemented by other governments when the King is abroad. All governments around the world undertake to protect their respective head of state and visiting heads of state to their shores.
It is quite erroneous on the part of much of the media and certain individuals to keep repeating that the ‘monarchy is now costing the taxpayer £x or $x’. Apart from security it is not directly costing anything. It is entirely self-supporting from monies received from its traditional revenue sources. The monarchy actually hands over huge sums of ‘surplus’ money (roughly 85% of revenue) to the UK government from the Crown Estate.
The simple answer is No. If the people vote at a referendum to remove the Crown from the Australian Constitution, then we have no monarchy and thus no King. This is and has always been the decision of the Australian people. The King has always said that he ‘will abide by whatever decision the Australian people may make.’
These are independent kingdoms where Charles III is King and Sovereign. There are 16 of them (see below) and all are members of the Commonwealth of Nations. Each Realm, being independent of all the others, titles the King differently.
The 15 realms are:
- Antigua and Bermuda
- New Zealand
- Papua New Guinea
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- Solomon Islands
- United Kingdom
The King's title within Australia is: “Charles III by the Grace of God, King of Australia and His other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth”.
The Commonwealth originally comprised former colonies or dominions of the British Empire but has been expanded to include any country which applies, and which is accepted to join the modern Commonwealth. The last country to join was Rwanda in 2009.
It is today a voluntary association of 54 independent sovereign countries, each having equal status with another.
The Commonwealth comprises 2.4 billion people and includes both advanced economies and developing countries 32 of which are small states, including several island nations.
Member governments meet on a regular basis and have shared goals like development, democracy and peace. The values and principles are expressed in the Commonwealth Charter.